Members of the Screen Actors Guild voted overwhelmingly to ratify a two-year contract covering movies and prime-time TV shows made by the major Hollywood studios, ending a yearlong debacle that included union leaders calling for a strike.
The Guild said Tuesday that 78 percent of those who voted were in favor of the deal, a show of unity following bitter infighting that left the Guild further behind than where it started. About 110,000 SAG members were sent ballots and more than 35 percent cast votes.
The new contract immediately raises actors' minimum pay by 3 percent and grants another 3.5 percent raise in the second year of the deal, which along with better pension benefits and some Internet compensation gives them $105 million in overall gains, the union said.
But it does not improve upon the Internet terms that other unions have already accepted. Negotiators replaced in January had sought more lucrative Web compensation.
SAG fought alone for better terms than were secured by writers, directors and another actors union called AFTRA, but the battle ended up hurting it as TV studios like ABC, NBC, Fox and CBS sent most of their new work AFTRA's way. SAG maintains exclusive jurisdiction over feature films.
The deal comes nearly a year after the last contract expired, meaning SAG actors lost out on proposed raises over the past year that the studios estimated totaled nearly $80 million.
"We were behind the eight ball to some extent with the amount of time we had been working without a contract at all," said Adam Arkin, an actor who was elected to the Guild's board last fall. "Whatever gains are to be made in the future are going to have to start with us not going down the road of this level of fracture within the community of SAG."
The new contract takes effect after midnight and expires on June 30, 2011, about the same time as those of other unions, allowing SAG to maintain the future threat of a joint strike. That expiration date had been one of the final points of contention.
The past year's infighting came to a head in January when recently elected moderates staged a boardroom coup, ousting the Guild's national executive director, Doug Allen, and muzzling President Alan Rosenberg. Both had considered a strike vote a key negotiating tool but never could muster the support to send one out.
Their removal as negotiators set a new tone as Interim Executive Director David White worked to salvage a deal in backdoor talks with executives such as Walt Disney Co. Chief Executive Bob Iger and Warner Bros. Chief Executive Barry Meyer. Warner Bros. is a subsidiary of Time Warner Inc.
A tentative deal was reached in April, about a year after talks first began.
White said in a statement that work on the next round of negotiations "begins now," adding that he would also begin to repair damaged relations with other unions.
SAG and AFTRA split acrimoniously last year and decided to negotiate deals with the studios separately for the first time in three decades.
Rosenberg acknowledged Tuesday that actors did not agree with his executive team's hard stance. But he said he would run for a third term as president in the fall and hope to be part of the contract talks in two years.
"Our point of view was rejected for now. I don't think it was because they said necessarily we're wrong," he said. "You need solidarity. We weren't able to build that this time."
Every major segment of SAG voted for the deal, with 71 percent of voting Hollywood actors, 86 percent in New York and 89 percent in other U.S. regions voting in favor.
Sam Freed, an actor and president of the Guild's New York division, said the landslide vote, even in Rosenberg's power base in Hollywood, marked a repudiation of his team's strategy.
"The way that he perceived it was declined by 71 percent of the Hollywood membership. And that's all that needs to be said," Freed said.
The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, the coalition of major studios, on Tuesday called the ratification "good news for the entertainment industry." The directors' guild and AFTRA also issued congratulatory statements.